Washington, D.C.

Suzanne Anker

Andrea Ruggieri Gallery

For several years now, New York artist Suzanne Anker has been casting exquisite sculptures in bronze, aluminium, and iron. In order to explore the relationship between nature and culture, she combines found objects such as automobile parts (horns, springs, funnels) and natural elements (branches, leaves, vines). Though it is Anker’s intention to create juxtapositions that resist visual metamorphosis into quasi-Surrealist or fantasy objects and thereby to expose the deep ideological opposition between nature and culture, as her latest works attest, she does not always achieve these ends. In her small cast-bronze work titled Material Instinct, 1990, a hand-sized stone made to stand on sprouting flower bulbs as if they were legs, resembles a fantastic crab.

Fixed Gaze, 1989, and Triton, 1990, do, however, animate the nature/culture dialectic. In Triton, oyster shells have been “stitched” together to form a basket. Resting on a tall table, this traditional vessel symbolizes the realm of culture, the man-made; the fact that it contains several bulbs and is tipped on its side, seems to warn of the ravages wreaked upon the environment by the ubiquitous shaping hand of man. In the more elaborate Fixed Gaze, the viewer is encouraged to peer through a multiprism lens set into the bottom of a tiny urn containing duck eggs covered in volcanic ash. The lens fractures the image into a complex abstracted pattern. This view of eggs seen through the manmade urn is intended to parallel society’s view of nature, one that is detached, mechanistic and unnatural.

Though the didactic quality of these pieces provides their primary interest, unfortunately, Anker’s elaborate bronze-casting technique proves distracting. At the same time, most of the new works do not evoke the sense of mystery that characterized earlier pieces—faithfully cast found objects altered just enough to undercut their connections to the real world so that the peculiar objects that resulted were suspended between real and imaginary worlds. In several works such as Oriole, 1989, and Other Nature, 1990, however, material and technique do come together with real purpose and meaning. In Other Nature, five small cast bronze bird’s nests sacrifice none of the original objects’ fragility. Preserving this delicate structure in bronze has the effect of suspending the destructive forces of nature, of holding time itself at bay. By stacking the nests one above the other, Anker not only turns the gallery into a surrogate tree, but she references Donald Judd’s stacked metal boxes, raising again the question of art’s position in the nature/culture equation.

In this work, romantic views of nature, nostalgic longings for a simpler way of life, and the reality of the modern industrial world seem to converge. Technique, material, and subject matter come together in the service of an idea.

Howard Risatti